by DeFelice, Cynthia. (Simon and Schuster, 1990 ISBN 0-02-726457-2) Novel. Grades 4+.
This book was reviewed by Carol Otis Hurst in Teaching K-8 Magazine.
Set in Ohio, in 1839, the book explores the concept of evil, guilt and the need for revenge. It also concerns the time in US history when the government paid "Indian fighters" to kill Indians in territories in which settlers were arriving. Weasel is one of these people, a psychopathic killer who has now turned on the settlers as well as the Indians.
Nathan Fowler and his sister are alone in the cabin when Ezra, a mute Indian, arrives and beckons them to follow him into the wilderness at night. With trepidation they follow and find their wounded father. Nathan is brought face to face with an evil killer, Weasel, an ex-Indian fighter. It is Weasel who cut out Ezra's tongue although they had once been, if not friends, at least co-workers. Later, when Nathan has a chance and even a cause to kill Weasel, he does not and this choice returns to haunt him. This is a harsh story about a family on the frontier of Ohio trying to cope with evil, hatred, and revenge. Healing comes through music as the children and their father attend a dance and fiddling contest.
When Weasel is found dead and Nathan tells Ezra what has happened, Ezra picks up the shovel to bury Weasel. Nathan is shocked and readers might like to talk about why Ezra needs to do this. Is it to make Weasel's death real? Is it to show his (Ezra's) humanity as contrasted with Weasel's?
This is one of many stories for young people in which the forces of good and evil are clearly drawn and students might like to make charts showing that dichotomy in other books.
A debate on capital punishment is one in which students might like to engage after reading this book for Nathan's opportunity to kill a seemingly unredeemably evil man is one he regrets not taking. Should he have? What would the killing of Weasel have done to Nathan and his family? Can you respect Nathan's decision?
The U. S. government's treatment of Native Americans then and now is also a subject for further research and debate occasioned by the reading of Weasel. Since that subject is so vast, it might be better for students to select one Native American group extant in Ohio -- possibly the Shawnees -- at the time of the book and follow it to the present, taking note of treaties and relocations as well as population numbers.
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